How long have you been teaching English in Taiwan?
I have been Teaching in Taiwan for almost 18 months now. The time has flown by amazingly quick.
Why did you choose Taiwan?
I taught in Spain almost 10 years ago. In Spain, it was very hard to find consistent work once the summer months came. It was a little bit sketchy since most Spanish employers will not provide Americans a full working visa since we are not members of the European Union. But, when I left Spain, I always heard that Taiwan was a good place to go to teach English. It was supposed to be cheap, good wages, good working conditions, and overall a very high quality of life.
I was still a little bit concerned about coming to Taiwan with the culture and language being so different. But, a friend of mine did it and actually found a wife while he was here. I got to talking to him more while he was here. And, it was easy to solidify my decision since the person telling me about this experience was an actual acquaintance of mine. I am not sure why I always had this weird thought in my head that maybe these schools were just blackmailing all the information online, and you get here and none of it is true. It is amazing how warped our minds can be.
How did you find your first teaching position?
I went through a teaching agency called Reach to Teach. They came as the most highly reputable within the industry by many. They were very helpful with getting my contract signed.
However, I always go out of my way to strongly suggest against this. It is hard to imagine packing up all of your stuff, and moving to a foreign country, with the hopes of getting a job.
But, you will get a job when you get here. The reason I suggest against going with an agency is because it is a total crap shoot on getting a good school if you do this.
You have to think about the fact that these schools hire people without even seeing their teacher, or talking to them.
I have found that many times these are the schools that have already developed such a bad reputation that people in the country, and with a reasonable social network will already know to avoid these schools.
Do you have a TEFL or CELTA certification?
I got my TEFL certificate about 10 years ago in Spain. It was a 4 week course. We had classroom lectures for approximately 5 hours per day. We got an opportunity to use the knowledge we gained later in the course. We each had roughly 10 hours of hands-on experience via the program. I personally learn best by doing. So, I would say for the money I spent on my certificate that it probably wasn’t worth it.
Is certification necessary to find employment in Taiwan?
Taiwan is very strict about making sure you have at least a Bachelor’s degree. However, the TEFL certificate does not matter. The cram schools are on just about every corner. This means that many schools are always looking for teachers.
A perfect example of how easy it is to find a job came during my first week in Taiwan. I got lost while I went for a walk one night. So, I asked a 12 year old for directions since they generally speak better English than the grown ups. And, his mom happened to work at a school that was hiring English teachers. Before I knew it she was on the phone setting up an interview for me to come to her school the next day.
I didn’t take that job. But, I will never forget getting lost, and essentially being offered a job by a 12 year old.
What is Taiwan like to live in?
The quality of life is fantastic. I came from a very typical corporate America office career. I was literally fighting back from banging my head off the desk while I was at work on a regular basis. I was working the standard 8-9 hour work day with almost no time to myself.
Here, I normally go to work about 5pm, and I am home by 9:30. This allows me such an amazing freedom for doing things in my free time.
The food has taken a little bit of getting used to for me. People come from all around the world to try Taiwanese food. However, I would say it took almost a full year for me to get used to it.
The Taiwanese are naturally very friendly people. They will go way out of their way to help you on a regular basis.
The nature and scenery offers some of the finest hiking and photography opportunities I have ever seen. I am almost always hiking somewhere when the weather permits.
The nightlife can be a little boring in some of the smaller cities. I love live entertainment. But, there doesn’t seem to be very much of that around at night.
What city are you in?
I live in a city called Zhongli. I jokingly call it “The Zhongli.” That is the “Chinglish” way a lot of the locals call it.
It is quite the random city. Many things still catch me for a surprise. Just last weekend, I took my friend visiting on a tour of “The Zhongli.” We found a random statue of fake fruit, a giant ping pong paddle statue, and a furniture store that sells fresh fruit.
The randomness is what keeps me laughing about this place.
What is your cost of living there?
It is quite cheap. My fully furnished apartment with a kitchen, balcony, etc. costs about $200 USD per month. It is about 45 minutes south of Taipei. Also, you can get to the mountains or the beach within about 35 minutes via scooter.
The only thing that is expensive is alcohol in bars. The standard price of alcohol at the bar is about $5.25 USD per drink which can add up quickly.
Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Taiwan?
The beauty of Taiwan is that you can save as much money as you like, or you can have a lot of fun, and not save any.
I am still quite awe-struck by the beauty of the island. So, I choose to explore and travel to the max. It is just my own personal choice. But, you could probably save as much as $800-$1000USD if that was your priority.
Do you recommend Taiwan for other English teachers?
I spent years thinking about coming to Taiwan. Almost all of the research I did always came back to the fact that Taiwan was one of the very best places for English teachers. So, I can honestly say I highly recommend coming to Taiwan to teach English. You will have a lot of fun, and maintain a high quality of life.
My only complaint about Taiwanese students is they can be a bit shy and robotic. It takes them some time to open up. But, once they do open up to to you, they are awesome!
Please tell us about the stand-up comedy you are doing in Taiwan?
I did stand-up comedy for about one year in the states before I left. It was mostly just unpaid open mic opportunities. At best, you might get about 6-7 minutes of stage time per appearance. I didn’t perform for about the first 9-10 months I was here in Taiwan. Then, the show booker e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to do 12-15 minutes at an all English show, and actually get paid too. That was an opportunity that I just might not have ever even gotten in the states. We normally perform either bar shows, or at the one comedy club we have in Taipei. You get performers from all different countries, USA, Canada, South Africa. etc. One guy is actually from Nigeria. On a good night, we might get about 50 patrons into a show.
The performers and patrons are mostly English speaking expats. I have also taken over the organizing, booking, etc. of the shows. I’m hoping to grow the scene into something very special. Stand-up comedy means a lot to me. It has helped me grow as a person able to fully express myself. Several years ago, I was holding back so much emotional baggage from my childhood, and many other things in my past. Each time I write, or perform it gives me more of an opportunity to let things go.
That is why I am extremely passionate about what we do. It has nothing to do with fame or fortune for me. It is just about continuing to improve as a person.
Are there good opportunities to pursue artistic or creative careers in the country?
The opportunity to do stand-up comes at a much higher frequency in the States. You might be able to get to 2-3 open mics in a night back home. This really helps you fine-tune your voice, stage presence, and get extremely comfortable on stage. In Taiwan, the only draw back is that I might only get to perform about once every couple weeks. But, the shows that you do are normally in front of an audience, and you actually get some money in your pocket. There is definitely much less competition here for foreigners performing. We actually have a hard time getting enough people to fill a show sometimes. That would never happen in America.
There is also a large community of Improv players throughout the island. I have tinkered with Improv a little bit in the past. But, I enjoy stand-up much more. So, I just know they are a very supportive group but I don’t have much first-hand experience to relay back to you.
Acting opportunities come up quite a bit as well for small parts in commercials and short films. I have only had one audition so far for a commercial. But, I know if I pursue it more actively the chances are likely to find something.
Overall, the arts community is extremely friendly, supportive, and many opportunities exist that I would not have at home. For that, I am extremely thankful!